Green Charcoal: Developing Biodegradable Construction Materials for a Circular Economy

Green Charcoal: Developing Biodegradable Construction Materials for a Circular Economy

Shreyas More (ISDI School of Design and Innovation, India) and Meenal Sutaria (ISDI School of Design and Innovation, India)
Copyright: © 2020 |Pages: 28
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-2426-8.ch005
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The two main challenges that future cities will face are the unavailability of material resources and the waste generated as a result of resource consumption. The chapter exhibits applied research into green charcoal that addresses the crisis of the fourth industrial revolution through the development of a biomaterial consisting of luffa, charcoal, and soil. It justifies that building materiality must be intentionally designed to transform over time and support an ecosystem of plants, insects, and birds to create self-sustaining natural habitats for all lifeforms. The approach to building materiality and building systems is performance-based, circular, and net positive, thus representing a departure from conventional architectural practices. It provides a framework for high-growth countries like India to reverse the resource crisis and achieve a competitive advantage over mature economies through such initiatives.
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Towards a Culture of Materiality

The Indian Context

In the West, religion stands in opposition to science. However, in India it is believed that the material world and spiritual world coexist. According to “India’s changing consumer Economy: A cultural perspective” by Alladi Venkatesh at the University of California, Irvine (1994), Indians believe that materials have symbolic meaning at three levels: aesthetic, functional, and spiritual. These principles have been ingrained in India's cultural systems and economy for thousands of years. Less than a century ago, Mahatma Gandhi advocated sufficiency in consumption for a circular future. As mentioned by Shankar Venkateswaran, traditionally, the Indian economy has been one where reusing, repurposing, and recycling has been second nature. In a world that is increasingly running out of natural resources, this thinking is an asset that must be leveraged by businesses, policymakers, and citizens in an organized manner and expanded to include other elements to make the economy truly circular.

Transitioning from a Linear Economy to a Circular Economy

The current linear models of economic growth have lifted millions out of poverty. The size of the global middle class will increase from 1.8 billion in 2009 to 3.2 billion by 2020 and 4.9 billion by 2030 (Pezzini, 2012). According to Homi Kharas (2017), the bulk of this growth will come from Asia. By 2030, Asia will represent 66% of the global middle-class population and 59% of middle-class consumption, compared to 28% and 23%, respectively in 2009, as indicated in Figure 1. While business leaders and governments across the world are reevaluating these linear models, many are looking to India and Southeast Asian countries that are facing the challenges of unprecedented consumer demands, leading to the rapid depletion of resources and irreversible damage to the planet. The need here is to rethink the economic model altogether and prosper within the regenerative capacity of the Earth.

Figure 1.

Design for Degradation: Towards a Future Economy

For manufacturers to repair or remanufacture products in the circular economy and recover material components, products will need to be designed for disassembly from the outset. This approach requires a radical overhaul of the design process, with consideration paid to how components come apart, how the user will upgrade products (if desirable and possible), and what the component pieces can subsequently become (Ellen MacArthur, 2013). While designing for disassembly becomes inevitable in a circular economy, it also essential to integrate material life cycle parameters like aging and transformation. Critical questions include: Should buildings materials be designed to last forever? Can the aging of materials be perceived positively? Can building materials and their function change with time? Can buildings, like humans, be allowed to age with time and intentionally provide changing experiences for the user over time? Can buildings be seen as material banks where the essential resources stored and energy produced by one building can be supplied to other buildings and people?

Key Terms in this Chapter

Cucurbitaceous: A family of chiefly herbaceous tendril-bearing vines that bare fleshy edible fruits.

Circular Economy: A systemic approach to economic development designed to benefit businesses, society, and the environment, where the finite resources are used in a constant loop of regeneration without creating waste.

End of Life (EOL): Refers to the final stages of a product or material’s phase of use.

Life Cycle Assessment (LCA): A systematic analysis of the environmental impact of products during their entire life cycle.

Microchannel: The natural structure of the luffa sponge fibers, which are arranged in parallel with diameters ranging from 4 to 10 µm and wall thicknesses of 0.3 to 1 µm.

Carbon Sequestration: Described as the long-term storage of carbon dioxide or other forms of carbon to either mitigate or defer global warming and avoid dangerous climate change.

Bioeconomy: The production of renewable biological resources and the conversion of these resources and waste streams into value added products such as food, feed, bio-based products, and bioenergy.

Biochar: A charcoal-like substance made by burning organic material from agricultural and forestry wastes (also called biomass) in a controlled process called pyrolysis.

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